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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Wonder Woman is Not the Problem

July 15th, 2013 at 12:49

wonderwomanI’ve been meaning to write this for a while.

How often do we hear about The Problem with Wonder Woman?

That one is actually a very pro-Wonder Woman article which addresses many of the sillier myths around The Problem, but the headline makes me crazy and the comments drive me completely round the twist. Because I see that headline, or an equivalent of it, and those comments all the time. Across social media and blogs and at conventions, all I hear are reasons why there isn’t a Wonder Woman movie yet, why there can’t ever be a Wonder Woman movie, despite the fact that she has the most independent brand recognition of any other female superhero ever.

Joss Whedon couldn’t do it, so no one else can.

Her villains are all stupid.

Her origin story is dumb.

The costume is a problem.

Steve Trevor is a problem.

David E Kelley had her sitting on a couch eating ice cream.

No one will write her right (except Joss Whedon).

No actress can play her.

No actress can wear the costume without being attacked by feminists and/or looking silly.

Movies about female superheroes always suck.

Hey didn’t you know she was all about kinky bondage stuff back in the day? Hurr hurr.

Wonder Woman isn’t RELATABLE.

I think Shoshanna at Tor is right on the money with her article – the “problem” with Wonder Woman is that most people don’t know how to deal with an unapologetically feminist character. Writers panic. Executives panic. The way that women in particular are written in Hollywood is so vastly different to the way that superheroes tend to be written, that when the two concepts are combined, fear and cosmetics companies and ice-cream tend to get thrown at the resulting mess until it goes away.

Unless Joss Whedon is doing the writing, but he can’t be everywhere at once, people.

But you know what?

Wonder Woman is not the problem.

wwcheetahHer supposed lack of unsilly villains are most certainly not a problem, not in a Hollywood that managed to deal in a clever, post-modern way with The Mandarin, one of the most alarmingly racist comics villains of all time. I mean, Ares worked JUST FINE for Xena, Circe is wicked fabulous, Cheetah… could probably only be used for comic relief but nothing wrong with that, and if all else fails there’s the whole Amazon vs. Man’s World storyline to address. There’s plenty to do with Wonder Woman that doesn’t require a supervillain AT ALL.

(and for those who fret that running out of credible villains for future movies might in some way be a problem, the plot for Wonder Woman 2 would obviously be the Artemis sequence where Diana loses the Wonder Woman name and has to win it back. Duh.)

Diana’s origin story, by the way, is actually exceedingly awesome. Pilot crashes on island, discovers lost civilisation of extremely technologically advanced Amazons, Diana the daughter of the Queen wins a tournament for the right to return him to Man’s World, once there Diana finds all sorts of uses for her strength and skills and turns herself into Wonder Woman. It works in the present day as easily as it did in the 1940’s. Sure, you’d have to replace the brief spell she works in the circus to acquire her costume with a roller derby scene or two, but that is in no way a flaw.

wwspacekangaAlso you probably have to leave out the part where the Amazons on the island ride giant kangas in gladiatorial combat, which breaks my heart a bit, but we all make sacrifices.

If you really don’t want to set it in the present day, you can in fact set it in the 1940’s. Or 1950’s. Or 1960’s. Because all of those would be brilliant.

Old comics do tend to have a certain amount of stupid all over them (or if they go far enough in the wrong direction, high camp ridiculawesome), but vintage Wonder Woman comics are in no way more stupid than, for example, those starring Superman, Batman, Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and OMG THOR.

But if really truly you can’t bring yourself to honour Wonder Woman’s origin story (which is just as good as the baby shot out of Krypton or the parents killed in Crime Alley, except that her Mum gets to still be alive which is rather special) then go for the boy-pleasing current Cliff Chiang/Brian Azzarello run, which is basically Wonder Woman as Xena with a side of Christopher Nolaneque grittiness. Or the popular Gail Simone run in which Diana is an FBI agent and has to balance her ‘man’s world’ duties with her obligations as an Amazon. Or start her off without her memory like the Strazcinski run. Or give her the Emma Peel treatment like they actually did in the 1970′s. Or adapt the 12 Labours of Wonder Woman storyline.

Wonder Woman has had 600+ issues over the years. I’m pretty sure we can find a story or two in there worthy of a big screen movie.

wwcliffchiangIt’s not like we NEED to see Wonder Woman becoming Wonder Woman. Everyone kind of knows who she is.

Then there’s the costume. And you know what? The costume is a problem. However, the costume is largely a problem as drawn over the last 20 years. Superhero costumes are always a problem, because things drawn on to comic characters don’t generally work that well when you get real people to wear them. This has been a problem for every superhero movie of the last thirty years and frankly it was a problem of all the ones before that too but we were more forgiving back then. The X-Men solved the problem. If really truly no one in Hollywood has the faintest idea how to do it with Wonder Woman, then get Ngila Dickson on speed dial. She’s the woman who dressed Xena, and later did the costumes for The Lord of the Rings. She can deal.

Take a moderately attractive actress. Don’t pretend she is a cartoon character and that all you need to do is ink in a few scraps of red and blue paint. Let her wear clothes that cover a reasonable amount of her body, which in some way evoke the spirit of Wonder Woman’s costume. Check out Tumblr and Pinterest to see an infinite variety of what fan artists and cosplayers have done over the years to celebrate the possibilities of her costume. Make sure your actress can run in the outfit and hit things without her boobs falling out. Job done.

wwsteveSTEVE TREVOR IS WONDERFUL.

He is a male character in the military who looks at a woman who is more physically powerful than him, and he finds that incredibly attractive. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT STEVE TREVOR.

Fancying Wonder Woman does not make him weak. He doesn’t need to compete with her. He has his own stuff going on. Also sometimes, he can point her at things and ask her to hit them while he files the reports. He can fight beside her, or he can get out of her way.

Yes, he was occasionally written as a raging sexist or an idiot, but that was down to writer panic – there’s plenty of material showing him as being unthreatened by Diana’s awesomeness, and happy to give Wonder Woman credit for saving his life many times.

rescuingsteveIf you go down the ‘Wonder Woman pretends to be Diana Prince and becomes his nurse/secretary but he won’t look twice at her’ storyline rabbit hole, try a) not to write Steve as being monumentally stupid and b) try to remember that this is not just a gender reversed Lois Lane situation. Superman wants Lois to love Clark because he’s the version he thinks of as his real self. Wonder Woman IS Diana’s real self, so it’s actually GOOD that Steve fancies her more than the more traditionally docile Diana Prince. A great many comics seemed to be confused on that point.

I’m also not entirely sure why it’s even necessary for Steve to remain ignorant that the Amazon who rescued him on the island is in fact Wonder Woman. The story works better if he knows that – as the Gail Simone animated movie showed quite effectively!

Wonder-Woman-and-Steve-Trevor

I’m not going to address the ice-cream part. But you know what? I would watch the hell out of a Wonder Woman movie or TV show or whatever in which she sat around in her underwear eating ice-cream when sad, or hanging out with her girlfriends, as long as she was a rounded character in other ways, her dialogue was clever, and she got to be unapologetically heroic.

We need to be aware that female characters are judged on a far more minute level than male characters. We all loved The Avengers eating shawarma. Let Diana eat some damn ice-cream without being all judgy about it. Though it would be pretty awesome if that bit was after the credits, and she was eating it with Batman, and then Nick Fury turned up to ask them to form the Justice League…

The fear that no one will write her right is… well. A legitimate concern. I would hate to have a crappy, badly written Wonder Woman movie. But all I’m seeing here is fear that the task is impossible, and it’s not impossible. Gail Simone wrote a damn good Wonder Woman movie, which happened to be made as an animated film. You can go watch it RIGHT NOW. It’s pretty great. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti wrote a fabulous Wonder Woman origin story for Ame-Comi Girls which did that really annoying ‘let’s write her as a teenager’ thing and still worked excellently.

If writers are good writers and are not threatened by or terrified by the idea of a female superhero (NOT A NOVEL CONCEPT, PEOPLE) then the writing is not automatically doomed before it starts. Joss Whedon is not the only person, surely, who can make this sucker fly.

wwginatorresActresses:

Get a good one.

Not too skinny.

Gina Torres would do nicely. Or Jennifer Lawrence. But come on, this isn’t rocket science.

There are a lot of actresses in Hollywood. I’m sure if the script is good enough, you can get a good one. It’s not like you need the brand recognition of a star.

Chris Evans wasn’t as famous as Captain America when he got the role. Lynda Carter was definitely not as famous as Wonder Woman when she got HER role, and she did a damn good job. She’s a big part of the reason that the character remains so fondly in the heart of so many women today who have never read a comic in their life.

Almost no actress you get is going to be as famous as Wonder Woman herself.

That’s okay.

Just cast the right person, and pick someone who looks like she can hit things without her arms shattering.

Also, try to choose a director who thinks letting women act is more important than making sure they look pretty in every single frame. It will pay off in the long run.

wwlassoOh, and don’t talk to me about the bondage thing. It wasn’t the most important element of the early comics, regardless of the supposed intent of WW’s creator. This particular salacious detail gets talked about over and over, usually to belittle the character and to derail any serious discussion about why generation after generation of women are still talking about her, and fascinated by her even though she hasn’t featured in any live action media since the 70′s.

Let’s not reduce her to a dirty joke, people. Stay classy.

As for the the ‘not relatable’ comment, surely the most enraging thing anyone has ever said about Wonder Woman ever (and it gets said a lot) – you know what, if you can’t relate to a cool, witty, powerful female superhero, that’s not my problem. But this is a common perception, so it is something worth addressing. As I already mentioned, female characters are judged far more harshly for their flaws AND their perfections. So you can’t create a Wonder Woman that is criticism proof, sadly. (this is not a Wonder Woman problem, it’s a human race problem)

But here are a few ways to make a character more likeable despite being a superpowered, beautiful woman (even typing those words made me annoyed all over again) – and no, tacking fakeout flaws like ‘clumsy’ or ‘unlucky in love’ are not going to make people hold back from the Mary Sue accusation:

lynda-carter-wonder-woman1. Witty dialogue. You don’t have to be Joss Whedon to work out that people like characters who are funny while being powerful. Yes, even ladies. Xena and Buffy both had this going on. Wonder Woman often has the reputation for being strait-laced and severe but there’s no actual reason she has to be written that way – plenty of her comics show her having a strong sense of irony and sarcasm.

2. Being good at their job – a great way to make audiences sympathise with a character, including villains.

3. A script that remembers that women are people. And that includes women in cinema audiences, as well as superheroes.

4. Don’t have her hook up with Superman. At all. Unless it’s a massive, teasing red herring to lead into a Lois Lane/Wonder Woman team up movie, in which case, go nuts.

Lasso or no lasso, there is some great material in the 60+ Wonder Woman comics that could be mined for a new, modern script along with some of the more successful recent reboots of the character – and the fact that there is the occasional bit of stupid along the way shouldn’t in any way be used as an excuse to dismiss or disregard the ongoing success of Wonder Woman as a character and an icon. All sixty year old comics have occasional stupid bits in them.

Oh wait, that’s right, there aren’t that many superhero comics that have lasted more than sixty years. Maybe Wonder Woman is something special, or something.

Maybe a movie with her in it might actually be awesome, if we stopped freaking out about the ‘problems’ ahead of time.

Maybe we should just let it be awesome, and hope for the best. Who knows what the fresh imagination of some new, open-minded creators might bring to the table?

PS: Yes, this entire rant is a long-winded way of saying I’ll be putting up some more Where The Wonder Women Are essays very soon.

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13 Responses to “Wonder Woman is Not the Problem”

  1. Grant Watson Says:

    I say drop Diana in Times Square with an angry hydra and a Wonder Woman movie would write itself.

  2. tansyrr Says:

    See, that’s the thing! ALL OF GREEK MYTH TO CHOOSE FROM. No super villains required.

    Echidna, mother of all monsters.
    Medusa
    Perseus :D

    Now I want the Wonder Woman/Thor movie crossover event in which they both perceive the other as being the villain…

  3. Jocelyn Says:

    Gina Torres would be AWESOME as Wonder Woman! What a great suggestion.

  4. tansyrr Says:

    It wasn’t my idea at all – she voiced the character in some of the animated shows, and fan art suggesting she’d be fabulous in the live action role has been around for years.

    Leaving aside the colour of her skin (which SHOULD make no damn difference), Gina Torres has the kind of physique I’d love to see cast (no waif Wonder Women please) but also I’d really like to see an older woman play the role. Teen Wonder Woman doesn’t hold a lot of interest to me. Batman and Superman get to be in their 30′s or 40′s in the movies, but Wonder Woman keeps being de-aged even in the comics, which is a shame. She’s the first real DC super-heroine, and I’d love to see her depicted as someone who’s been around and fighting the good fight for long enough to see a new generation or two come up behind her.

    A Wonder Woman/Wonder Girl movie in which the two main characters are Diana and Cassie Sandsmark would be fabulous.

    Or if Diana really has to be young then Gina Torres could be Hippolyta – in some versions of the origin, she was the World War II Wonder Woman, and Diana came along a generation or two later and picked up the legacy. That would also be pretty fab.

  5. tansyrr Says:

    Oh, and Lucy Lawless (who has also voiced an animated Wonder Woman) would also be fabulous as a Hippolyta-who-used-to-be-WW.

  6. Magpie Monday | Robert E. Stutts Says:

    [...] The problem with Wonder Woman (nothing new, but it’s a nice overview of the trouble with Harry—I mean, Wonder Woman) and the solution (which is actually quite a good solution; I won’t spoil it, but I’ll say, WW, meet MM). Also, refreshingly, Wonder Woman is not the problem. [...]

  7. Sean the Bookonaut Says:

    I now want to watch a wonder woman movie.

  8. Jocelyn Says:

    If Teen Wolf can posit a sexual-orientation-blind world, I don’t see why Wonder Woman couldn’t be colour-blind.

    I’ve only seen Gina Torres in Firefly but she really stood out for me as gorgeous, vital and charismatic. I can definitely see her in a role like WW.

  9. tansyrr Says:

    Good posture and confidence can always overcome a silly costume.

    Lynda Carter had that in spades.

    Lucy Lawless had it as Xena.

    Gina Torres has it in spades.

    I hope Hollywood gets that part right when casting.

  10. Grant Watson Says:

    Well the closest Warner Bros came to producing Wonder Woman was as part of the George Miller Justice League, and that had non-actor Megan Gale as Diana. : /

  11. Murray Campobianco Says:

    Gina Torres already proved that her posture and confidence can overcome a silly costume in Cleopatra 2525.

  12. The heart is a lonely linkspam (23 July 2013) | Geek Feminism Blog Says:

    [...] Wonder Woman is Not the Problem | tansyrr.com: “The problem with Wonder Woman is that most people don’t know how to deal with an unapologetically feminist character… The way that women in particular are written in Hollywood is so vastly different to the way that superheroes tend to be written, that when the two concepts are combined, fear and cosmetics companies and ice-cream tend to get thrown at the resulting mess until it goes away.” [...]

  13. Lovely Links: 7/26/13 Says:

    [...] “…the ‘problem’ with Wonder Woman is that most people don’t know how to deal with an unapologetically feminist character. Writers panic. Executives panic. The way that women in particular are written in Hollywood is so vastly different to the way that superheroes tend to be written, that when the two concepts are combined, fear and cosmetics companies and ice-cream tend to get thrown at the resulting mess until it goes away.” (Via Geek Feminism) [...]

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